The nation of Pakistan received a welcome surprise today after their team overcame Zimbabwe in a tight contest that may as well have been dubbed the battle of the minnows – going by Pakistan’s woeful recent batting performances.
In fact, considering Zimbabwe’s stellar World Cup scores of 277, 286, and 289, one could argue that Pakistan’s win was a bit of an upset.
After losing to India and then capitulating against the West Indies, captain Misbah-ul-Haq urged his team to seek example from the heroics of Imran Khan’s 1992 efforts. Unfortunately, it seems Misbah’s players took his words literally, and time traveled back to 1992 where scores of over 225 in 50 overs were considered to be commanding totals.
So desperate was Pakistan to emulate the triumphant team’s heroics from the 23-year-old World Cup final that Pakistan lost both its openers cheaply, before smashing the anchor deep into the ocean seabed; refusing to let their prehistoric vessel budge.
Full tosses were pushed back to the bowlers while few attempts were made to rotate the strike. At the end of 15 overs, Pakistan stood at 33 for 2, which was the lowest 15 over score in the World Cup; worse than UAE’s 41 runs against India.
The thrilling recovery continued as Pakistan finally crossed the rate of 3 runs per over at the end of the 24th over.
The situation was dire enough for the stadium DJ to begin playing patriotic Pakistani pop songs to lift the Asian minnows’ spirits.
So outdated was Pakistan’s recovery strategy that one wonders if Misbah-ul-Haq and Haris Sohail thought that Ghulam Ishaq Khan was Pakistan’s President, and that Michael Jackson was still reigning at the top of the music charts.
Missing Fawad ...
Before the World Cup had begun, the untested Haris Sohail had taken Fawad Alam’s place in the squad after the prolific player had been criticised for being too slow a batsman.
Today, the similarly styled left-handed batsman cum bowler showed just how much faster he was than Fawad Alam, with a dazzling 27 runs at a breakneck strike rate of 61.36, against an opposition like Zimbabwe.
Fact is, Pakistan desperately missed Fawad today – a player who sustained a batting average of 45 runs over 35 matches. Arguments against the left-hander’s strike rate aren’t holding much merit, considering that his replacements Haris Sohail and Younis Khan are barely troubling the scorers. In fact, the ODI strike rate of all three of these hovers around 75.
At the very least, Fawad, who loves to keep the numbers ticking with singles and doubles, would have scored a 50 or perhaps even a 100 against Zimbabwe. Fawad isn’t perfect, but he surely has displayed more skill at finding the gaps than the current Pakistan top order.
'Mixed bag' Misbah still our best warrior
Meanwhile, Misbah-ul-Haq kept striving hard to emulate the cricket of March 1992 by holing out on 73 runs after facing 121 deliveries, with the assistance of three boundaries. Heeding Sohaib Akhtar’s fiery taunting, the Pakistan skipper decided to emulate Imran Khan perhaps beyond what Akhtar had meant.
Misbah’s 121-ball-73 was actually slower than Imran Khan’s 110-ball-72 against England; where, even in 1992, Khan had been criticised by commentators like Tony Greig for recovering the innings at a pedestrian pace.
Misbah’s supporters are hailing him as a hero, but had Pakistan failed to defend the below par score, he would have been the villain of this tale.
I am a huge fan of Misbah, but his innings today was one of his poorer efforts. The skipper came at two wickets down and blocked as if Pakistan was six wickets down. It was also evident from Misbah’s huffing and puffing after he reached 50, and especially from his lack of strength at the end when he failed to clear the boundary, that physical fitness is a factor in his inability to score ODI hundreds.
This wasn’t the first time Misbah lost steam after scoring a demanding ODI fifty. One can recall similar situations in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh where Misbah failed to accelerate after emptying his tank
While a fresher Misbah would have easily blasted the Zimbabwean bowling to all parts, a spent Misbah found it impossible to clear the ropes.
Whereas in Test matches, Misbah is able to pace himself in order to consistently score 100s, ODIs are more demanding. His Test match blitz against the Aussies where he scored the fastest Test hundred was scored after facing 56 balls in only 74 minutes, with a nice break in the middle. During longer Test match innings, Misbah is often blocking in an effort to regain his strength.
On the other hand, today’s laborious innings was scored in 191 minutes without a break.
Regardless, Misbah’s innings was as significant as a solitary loaf of bread on an otherwise empty table; while the innings was far from perfect, it was still all that Pakistan had.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s less appreciative cricket fans on social media were unwilling to overlook Misbah’s age, the pressure of the situation, the state of Pakistan’s fragile batting lineup, and endlessly taunted Misbah for his slow albeit priceless score in the grander scheme of things.
Instead, these fans bemoaned that Shahid Afridi was not the man leading the team. It seems that Shahid Afridi, who has never crossed 50 runs in a World Cup, bats at an average of 23.59, bowls at an average of 34.21, and would never walk into any of the other Test playing ODI teams, is still a shinier gem than Misbah.
Lauding the superb bowling
Pakistan’s depressingly low total was safely defended by the spectacular fast bowling. Bowlers such as Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, and even Rahat Ali bowled like the spawn of bowling genius, Wasim Akram. Credit here must go to the skipper who marshaled his men brilliantly, once again channeling Imran Khan.
Pakistan must have its bowling continue to fire at full throttle if it is to beat the UAE, in what promises to be another battle of the minnows with the way Pakistan’s batting is performing.
However, on evidence of this game, it seems unlikely that our Asian pussycats will be able to challenge the mighty South Africa in the following game. To beat such a side, Pakistan must not only bowl superbly, but bat better than they have been, which for the record is worse than most of the Associates, the majority of whom boast higher scores in the tournament than Pakistan.
Thankfully, our Asian pussycats showed some positivity by playing Rahat Ali as a fifth bowling option instead of batsman Younis Khan.
Notes for the coming matches
For the selection in future matches, certain changes are begging to be made.
The clumsy Nasir Jamshed now boasts more dropped catches then he does runs in his two appearances for Pakistan, and should not be given another chance to add to that embarrassing ratio. His replacement must be Sarfraz Ahmed, who can bring some welcome aggression to the top of the order.
While Sarfraz has failed in the practice matches, he certainly can do no worse than Nasir or Younis.
What’s more, Sarfraz’s selection will mean relief for Umer Akmal, who has been a little unfairly needled for his dropped chances considering that he’s a part time keeper. That being said, Pakistan fans should be aware that Sarfraz has been off-colour both with the bat and the gloves in the practice games.
The bounce in Australia has been difficult for many Pakistani wicket-keepers (including Moin Khan who took some time to adjust).
Hopefully, Pakistan has the foresight to give Mohammad Irfan a rest against the UAE in favour of Yasir Shah. The big fast bowler isn’t as physically fit to play another match so quickly, and will be needed against South Africa. For those wondering why Yasir wasn’t selected today, Misbah mentioned that it was a tactical decision in light of Zimbabwe’s ability to play spin.
Ultimately though, Pakistan’s batting must click if they are to challenge the bigger fish.
At the age of 40, and going by today’s performance, we must accept that our valiant skipper has his limitations. He is a gunslinger with a limited amount of ammo who shouldn’t have to wield the assault rifles.
If Pakistan is to pose a serious threat to the better teams then younger top order batsmen must reinvent themselves as a Brian Lara or a Ricky Ponting.
Asking this of a brave old war horse is simply too much.